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Port Coquitlam must reveal purchase price of parking lot in city land sale: OIPC

Port Coquitlam real estate prices aren't static, says the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).

Revealing the price a developer paid for a parking lot owned by the City of Port Coquitlam would not harm the municipality's financial or economic interests, an adjudicator for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) has ruled.

In an Aug. 2 decision posted online, Allison J. Shamas said the purchase price shouldn't be withheld from documents sought under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). 

"The city has not explained how revealing the 2020 purchase price could reasonably be expected to result in harm to the city's financial or economic interests in 2023," Shamas wrote.

Among the considerations, she noted, is that the real estate market isn't "static" and a purchase price from 2020 isn't necessarily relevant to circumstances today, and wouldn't harm the city's negotiating position on future land deals.

Shamas was responding to a request by an unnamed applicant to review documents withheld by the city about decisions PoCo councillors made between 2018 and 2020 in approving the sale of property to Quarry Rock Developments for a mixed use retail and condo project at McAllister Avenue called The Met.

Shamas agreed the city was within its rights to withhold information that would reveal the "substance of deliberations," including meeting minutes, which the applicant sought in their Freedom of Information request.

Initially, Port Coquitlam was reluctant to provide any documents, arguing that the meetings were in camera (or behind closed doors) due to their dealings with land and legal issues.

When the applicant asked OIPC for a review, the city agreed to produce about half of the 212 pages of documents. But several remained in dispute and, after failed mediation, the OIPC was asked make a decision.

In withholding documents, the City of Port Coquitlam argued that it needed to protect sensitive information that would reveal deliberations and perhaps harm future negotiations.

Among the reasons for withholding documents under the Community Charter, the city cited:

  • local public body confidences 
  • advice and recommendations
  • solicitor-client privilege
  • harm to the financial or economic interests of a public body

But the adjudicator said not everything the city wanted to withhold needed to be if the records didn’t reveal substantive information about deliberations.

For example, topics and headings could be provided, the comings and goings of councillors could be allowed, as well as status reports and “generic actions” that shed little light on the proceedings.

A negotiator’s views about a resolution could also be provided to the applicant because their statement was a "general platitude."

"Due to the generic connotation the words have taken on through repeated usage, I find that the statement reveals nothing about the participants' actual views," the adjudicator wrote.

However, Shamas found that formal motions and recommendations from the agendas and minutes, and other detailed documents could be withheld.

"Given their detail and specificity, I find that revealing the motions and recommendations would allow accurate inferences about the specific issues that the Committees discussed at the Meetings, and thus reveal the substance of the Committees’ deliberations," Shamas wrote.

Still, the city was ordered to disclose documents not shielded by the charter by Sept. 15, and provide a copy of the cover letter to the OIPC.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 12, PoCo's committee of council OK'd a development permit amendment bid from Quarry Rock Developments to add another residential floor to its new building at 2245 McAllister Ave.

The sixth storey would result in a total of 80 condos.

The vacant 33,130 sq. ft. site, on the northern side of McAllister (east of PoCo Bowl and north of city hall), is currently under construction.

- with a file from Janis Cleugh, Tri-City News

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